CHAMPCAR/CART: FedEx Championship Series happenings 2001-01-10

The announcement of the five-member 2000 CART All-Star Team, as well as the inaugural, three-member All-Star Teams from the Dayton Indy Lights Championship and the Toyota Atlantic Championship, highlight next week's Sneak Preview activities in ...

The announcement of the five-member 2000 CART All-Star Team, as well as the inaugural, three-member All-Star Teams from the Dayton Indy Lights Championship and the Toyota Atlantic Championship, highlight next week's Sneak Preview activities in Southern California.

The All-Star Extravaganza - scheduled for Tuesday, January 16 at the Sun Theater in Anaheim, Calif. - caps the opening day of Sneak Preview. Earlier that day, groups of media members will participate in tours of California-based engine shops Ford Cosworth Racing, Honda Performance Development and Toyota Racing Development. The engine tours will be divided into two groups. One group will visit Toyota Racing Development in Costa Mesa and Cosworth Racing in Torrance, while the other group will go to Honda Perfomance Development in Santa Clarita and Cosworth.

In addition to Tuesday's announcement of the 2000 CART All-Star Team and the inaugural Dayton Indy Lights and Toyota Atlantic All-Star teams on Tuesday night, the evening will be capped by a performance by one of the hottest groups in the current music scene.

Wednesday, January 17 and Thursday, January 18 will feature several media activities at California Speedway in Fontana. These two days will provide the media with its first opportunity to interview and photograph all of the 2001 competitors and their cars in their livery for the upcoming season.

Key drivers from the Toyota Atlantic Championship and the Dayton Indy Lights Championship will also participate in formal press briefings, and recently-named CART President and CEO Joseph Heitzler will participate in his first group press briefing and question-and-answer session on Wednesday afternoon. Also on Wednesday, American Honda will debut its new Hospitality Coach during a media luncheon from 11:45 a.m. to 12:45 p.m.

In addition to the media activities, an all-driver autograph session will be held at the track from 3:30 to 4 p.m. on Wednesday. The autograph session will be open to all members of the CART Winners Circle Fan Club, California Speedway season ticket holders, and anybody who purchases tickets for the Marlboro 500 Presented by Toyota, scheduled for November 4, 2001 at California Speedway.

Thursday's media events at the track will be highlighted by a major race announcement, scheduled for 11:45 a.m.

TESTING SEASON IN FULL SWING

With the holiday break over, Champ Car teams have resumed their vigorous testing schedules in preparation for the 2001 FedEx Championship Series campaign.

Target Chip Ganassi Racing rookie drivers Bruno Junquiera and Nicolas Minassian competed 340 miles of testing at Laguna Seca Raceway on January 5, giving the drivers their first taste of a natural terrain road course in a Champ Car. Both drivers tested 2001 Toyota-powered Lolas.

"This was our first natural road course test this winter, so we focused our attention in the morning on allowing Bruno and Nicolas to learn the circuit," said Target Chip Ganassi Racing managing director Mike Hull. "During the afternoon session, Bruno and Nicolas were able to open it up and really get a feel for racing on this road course. They both made great strides. And, as usual, we were thrilled with our mechanics and crew for giving us such great cars."

Both drivers admitted to being challenged by the California road circuit, but were pleased with their progress during the test and are looking forward to returning to the track.

"This track is unlike anything I've ever experienced before," Minassian said. "The nuances of the corners were so much different than an oval, and the elevation change at The Corkscrew felt like a roller coaster ride. It took some getting used to, but I'm enjoying these new challenges. And this area is so beautiful. I'm very excited to return and spend more time here."

"This track really tests a driver's skill," added Junquiera. "Each corner is very different and it took me a while to perfect my turns. This test was helpful. I felt like I improved every lap. The next time I drive here, I'll be ready for it."

While Junquiera and Minassian were busy at Laguna Seca, Player's Forsythe Racing driver Patrick Carpentier got his first taste of his 2001 Ford/Reynard in a two-day test at the Firebird East road course near Phoenix. Carpentier logged 170 laps on the 1.24-mile circuit during the test.

It was also Carpentier's first opportunity to test the strength of his left wrist, which he fractured in an accident in his Las Vegas home last April. Carpentier recently had surgery to remove the metal plate that was inserted to stabilize his wrist.

"I had absolutely no trouble with the wrist during the testing sessions," Carpentier said. "There was no pain or soreness. I was a bit rusty on the first day of testing, but that was to be expected. We were scheduled for a second testing session on Saturday morning, but it rained and was pushed back to Sunday. That was probably a good thing, because it gave us the chance to see how the wrist would react after a day's layoff, and everything was fine.

"From the team aspect, I found that everyone is very motivated and already looking forward to the start of the new season. We got a lot of good information during the weekend and we're going back to the shop in Indianapolis with plenty of solid data to work with."

The busiest testing location, however, was Sebring International Raceway in Florida. Mo Nunn Racing driver Tony Kanaan, Newman/Haas Racing's Cristiano da Matta, Bryan Herta of Zakspeed/Forsythe Racing, Team Motorola driver Michael Andretti, Walker Racing rookie Tora Takagi, PacWest Racing rookie and 2000 Dayton Indy Lights champion Scott Dixon, and Patrick Racing's Jimmy Vasser put their 2001 equipment packages through their paces on the South Florida road circuit. Also getting his first taste of Champ Car driving in Sebring was European Formula Three veteran Andre Couto of Portugal, who was testing a Dale Coyne Racing Ford/Lola.

The teams and drivers testing on Tuesday morning were greeted by 45-degree temperatures, but the wind chill made it feel like 37 degrees. Despite the chilly temperatures, virtually every team put in a full day of testing, as 2001 testing regulations prohibiting in-season testing coupled with new testing regulations limiting one-car teams to a maximum of 14 off-season test days (20 for two-car teams) place a premium on getting the maximum out of every test. For Fernandez, the only owner/driver in the 2001 FedEx Championship Series, the Sebring test represented his first opportunity to test the Honda-Reynard that he will drive this season. The 2000 FedEx Championship Series runner-up did 30 laps on Tuesday, and was scheduled to be back in the car for another half-day of testing Wednesday morning before turning the controls over to new teammate Shinji Nakano, who was also scheduled for a day-and-a half of testing. Fernandez admitted that the team encountered a few problems in his first outing, but was excited to be back in the cockpit.

"It was an exciting day for me not only to be back in the car, but also to be here as a team after so many hours of work," Fernandez said. "To turn our first laps on the track really made this a reality for me. We are in the learning stages - getting to know each other as a team as well as our new equipment. It's exciting. We had a few problems today, but nothing different from other places I have been. This is why we go testing. We will be ready to go tomorrow morning."

Da Matta was another driver who got his first experience in his 2001 equipment, a Toyota-Lola, on Tuesday. Like Fernandez, da Matta also encountered a few minor problems in his maiden test. Nevertheless, the third-year Champ Car pilot still managed to put approximately 160 miles on his new car.

"Everything went well for our first day," said da Matta. "We had a few problems in the morning with little things for fitting me in the new car, so we lost a lot of time working on that. The afternoon was so good and we got so many things accomplished that it didn't really matter that we had a bad morning.

"We ran about 160 miles and went through some new changes before we did a long run. Most of the changes we went through were positive and I'm really looking forward to running again. We did our fast time with old tires, so I felt there is a lot of potential with the 2001 Lola. We didn't set the fastest time of everyone here in my first day in the new car but that is not the most important thing about testing. Overall, I am very pleased with our first day. When the first contact with the car is good, it's a very good thing for the future."

Da Matta was scheduled to be back in the car again on Wednesday, before turning the controls over to teammate Christian Fittipaldi, who will do one day of testing on Thursday.

One driver who has gotten in a few test days already this off-season is Vasser, who is entering his first season with Patrick Racing. Vasser was back at it again on Tuesday, logging a total of 185 miles, and was pleased with his performance despite the less-than-favorable conditions.

"It was a good test," Vasser commented. "I'm very pleased. It was only a one-day test for me, but I was able to run as fast as I did the last time we were here, but the conditions were much colder this time. I'm very happy with the way the Patrick Racing team is progressing with our preseason testing program. We are preparing for war, because that is what this season is going to be like."

Among the drivers scheduled to test in Sebring prior to next week's Sneak Preview in California are Nakano, Fittipaldi, two-time FedEx Championship Series champion Alex Zanardi of Mo Nunn Racing, Player's Forsythe Racing driver Alex Tagliani, and Roberto Moreno of Patrick Racing.

* Player's Forsythe Racing announced last week that esteemed race engineer Tony Cicale has joined the team, and will be responsible for the preparation of the car driven by second-year Champ Car competitor Alex Tagliani. Cicale spent the previous two seasons working with Team KOOL Green driver Paul Tracy, and has also worked with Champ Car legends such as Mario Andretti, Emerson Fittipaldi, Danny Sullivan, and Jacques Villeneuve. "I'm really excited about joining a team that is determined to regain its position among the series leaders and I'm looking forward to helping a promising young driver like Alex Tagliani reach his full potential," said Cicale. "He brings a wealth of knowledge and experience in race strategy that will help us take it to the next level," added Tagliani. "He is very down-to-earth, but his competitive nature is what sets him apart. He'll do anything to go fast and I feel privileged to have him around as we embark on what should be an exciting 2001 season." The announcement that Cicale has joined the team comes on the heels of November's announcement that former Reynard North America technical director Bruce Ashmore has also joined Player's Forsythe Racing as the team's technical director. "We have consistently stated that we plan to do everything we can to give our fans a team that will be able to challenge for the championship next season," said Player's Forsythe vice president of operations Neil Micklewright. "Having Tony Cicale on board, combined with the hiring of Bruce Ashmore, is another important step in that direction." DE FERRAN TO ATTEND AARWBA BANQUET 2000 FedEx Championship Series champion Gil de Ferran will be in attendance at the American Auto Racing Writers and Broadcasters Association (AARWBA) banquet, scheduled for Saturday, January 13 at the Sheraton Suites Fairplex in Pomona, Calif. De Ferran was a First Team selection to the Millennium All-America Auto Racing Team, and was joined on the First Team by Dayton Indy Lights champion Scott Dixon and Toyota Atlantic champion Buddy Rice. The team is made up of drivers from Stock Car, Road Racing, Drag Racing, and Short Track disciplines, and the driver who received the most votes will be awarded the Jerry Titus Award at the banquet. The 1999 FedEx Championship Series champion and 2000 Indianapolis 500 winner, Juan Montoya, was a Second Team selection to the All-America Auto Racing Team, while Patrick Racing driver Roberto Moreno earned an Honorable Mention spot on the team. STARS OF TOMORROW TO TEST PRIOR TO SNEAK PREVIEW The five winners of the inaugural Championship Auto Racing Teams Stars of Tomorrow are scheduled to test a Team Rahal Champ Car at California Speedway just prior to next week's Sneak Preview. The five drivers are expected to test January 15 and 16 on the road course at California Speedway, and will be available for photo opportunities and media interviews on January 17 during Sneak Preview. The five winners - Kevin Christensen, 20, of Castaic, Calif.; Jason Bowles, 18, of Ontario, Calif.; Jonathan Bomarito, 18, of Salinas, Calif.; AJ Allmendinger, 17, of Hollister, Calif.; and Brett Buckwalter, 18, of Novato, Calif. - won the Champ Car test during the Stars of Tomorrow Karting Challenge at Las Vegas Karting Center on November 3-5, 2000. The event was organized by Zakspeed/Forsythe Racing driver Bryan Herta.

"I am delighted that CART has allowed us to have our Stars of Tomorrow event become a small part of the Fontana Sneak Preview," Herta said. "I believe it is a tremendous show of support from CART for the winners, and an outstanding opportunity for our five Stars of Tomorrow to gain additional recognition. I am sure a lot of the media in attendance would be interested in these youngsters' first impressions of a Champ Car." To prepare for the test, the five drivers recently participated in a Skip Barber Three Day Racing School. The Champ Car test will be overseen by Herta, and Team Rahal's three-time CART Mechanic of the Year Jim Prescott. DRIVERS SIGNING AUTOGRAPHS AT L.A. AUTO SHOW This year's Los Angeles Auto Show, which runs from January 6-14 and hosts over one million visitors each year, features a CART display. On Wednesday, January 10, Team KOOL Green pilot Paul Tracy will be signing autographs from 6-8 p.m. PST and Zakspeed/Forsythe Racing driver Bryan Herta will be signing autographs at the display on Thursday, January 11 from 6:30 - 8:30 p.m. On both days, Toyota Atlantic Championship drivers Zak and Hawk Mazotta will join the Champ Car drivers during the autograph sessions. The CART display is located at booth K901 and admission to the show is $8.00 for adults. Children 12 and under are admitted to the show free, and more information is available at www.laautoshow.com. TRACY HELPS KICK OFF TICKET SALES IN TORONTO

For the second consecutive year, Team KOOL Green driver Paul Tracy kicked off ticket sales for the Molson Indy in Toronto on Tuesday, January 9. Tracy's day in Toronto included an autograph session with Toronto race fans during lunch at First Canadian Place, an appearance on TSN's "Off The Record," and an event kickoff party at Wayne Gretzky's Restaurant. The 2001 Molson Indy is scheduled for Sunday, July 15, 2001 in Toronto.

-CART-

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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Jacques Villeneuve , Gil de Ferran , Michael Andretti , Bruno Junqueira , Roberto Moreno , Patrick Carpentier , Alex Tagliani , Christian Fittipaldi , Paul Tracy , Scott Dixon , Alex Zanardi , Tony Kanaan , Tora Takagi , Bryan Herta , Shinji Nakano , Danny Sullivan , Emerson Fittipaldi , Skip Barber , Bruce Ashmore , Jonathan Bomarito , Chip Ganassi , Andre Couto , Mike Hull , Dale Coyne , Mo Nunn
Teams Chip Ganassi Racing , Dale Coyne Racing , Toyota Racing , Team Zakspeed